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Songs of ‘12 | Shows of ‘12

25. Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror

End of the Line” | Spotify

Sleigh Bells always struck me as sort of a gimmick, a one-trick pony on their debut Treats. To be honest, that trick, which makes Nigel Tufnel’s “but these go to eleven” explanation a parody of itself, is still in full effect here—Reign of Terror is loud and brash, letting the guitar slam out chunky, primordial chords with single-minded fervor. Alexis Krauss, however, is the star of Reign of Terror, putting her former teen-pop resume to good use as the shimmery shoegaze counterpoint to Derek Miller’s bludgeoning riffs. For all its volume, Reign of Terror is nuanced and careful in its use of textures and breathy harmonies, less concerned with fist-pumping and headbanging than focusing on the gorgeous tones and dreamlike atmosphere Krauss’ layered vocals achieve. It is a less brutish and far more beautiful Sleigh Bells than I ever expected.

24. Andy Stott – Luxury Problems

“Numb” | Beatport

I wish my old piano teacher was as cool as Allison Skidmore, who really opens up a whole new dimension to Andy Stott’s “negative space” realm (© Alex Robertson). Luxury Problems is intensely atmospheric and intricately layered, as Stott’s brand of minimal techno has tended to be, but Skidmore’s nebulous vocals give a heretofore-unseen…

Photo courtesy of the Atlantic

Sunday was the hottest day of the weekend by far, yet still a relatively (by Coachella standards) 83 degrees with a nice occasional breeze. It showed in the increased turnout to the open stages; Kentucky buzz band Sleeper Agent played a quick and dirty wake-up call of big riffs and shout-along choruses on the Outdoor Stage to the bleary-eyed, quickly roasting audience. I soon made my way to the other side of the festival to check out the criminally underbilled Noisia who played to a half-filled Sahara tent. I’m assuming Noisia’s relentless brand of drum n’ bass and dubstep was a bit too dark for the serotonin-depleted masses. After catching their well received remix of deadmau5’s “Raise Your Weapon,” I detoured over to the Mojave to see perennially on the cusp indie rockers Oberhofer. There’s a bit of Wavves in their rambling, sunny surf-rock, and if there was ever a song to get Brad Oberhofer’s pet project finally over the hump, irrepressibly catchy single “Away Frm U” is about as good a shot as any. Energy was something Mr. Oberhofer definitely did not lack; at one point, he climbed the precarious metal support on the left of the stage, seemingly for the express purpose of massaging the lights before climbing down and giving running high fives to the first row.

Santigold had a great time over at the Main Stage for her mid-afternoon…

Photo courtesy of Kaskade

Where Friday was cold, dreary and windy, Saturday was merely cold and windy. The sun maintained a long vigil during the day, but razor sharp gusts and a high that barely cleared 70 degrees made sure Coachella kept making a pretty penny on hoodie sales. 2:30 in the afternoon is not necessarily morning, but it always feels like that, with the majority of the festival still in their tents or beds recovering from the night before. Destroyer didn’t seem to mind, though; playing a seven song set heavy in Kaputt cuts, Bejar was in fine form for the afternoon mood. Many enjoyed the suave jazz of “Chinatown” and the hazy “Bay of Pigs” from blankets in the grass, an appropriately dreamy soundtrack as the sun beat down on them and most people unwillingly began their day.

After that I kicked up the energy a bit for Zeds Dead’s set at the Sahara. Already way past full, the Sahara tent was rocking with the Mad Decent duo’s eclectic mix of hip-hop, dubstep and straight-ahead electro. Although Zeds Dead killed it, the already rowdy antics of much of the Sahara’s population had me swearing off the tent for the rest of the day, a decision made easier by future Sahara tenants (David Guetta, Martin Solveig, Sebastian Ingrosso … ehh, I’ll pass). I managed to catch the end of Britpop castaways Kaiser Chiefs on the Main Stage,…

There was a surreal moment on Saturday night of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival that typified just how much the festival has changed over the past twelve years. As the orchestral swells and backing vocals dissipated from Leslie Feist’s huge backing band as “Feel It All” faded away into the dusk on the Outdoor Stage, Feist waved to the cheering crowd and thanked them for the support, adding nonchalantly, “see you next weekend!” It was an odd, wrenching tearing of the reality-altering cocoon that Coachella has built up around itself. For months leading up to this weekend, the hype and excitement for what has become the quintessential American music festival is nearly all-consuming, eventually leading to a weekend that, regardless of the seeming impossibility of meeting expectations, manages to live up to it all. Whether you spend your weekend camped in the baking heat, surrounded by a swell of campers who flash eternal smiles despite conditions that would appall the writers of the Geneva Convention, or carpool in from the surrounding small vacation towns of Indio and Palm Desert that turn into veritable cities of drug-addled youth and defiantly stereotypical hippies, Coachella remains a singular experience.

Yet there Feist was, breaking the illusion that this was a unique happening. The splitting of Coachella into two weekends was arguably necessary, given that 2011’s festival sold out in less than six days and this year’s edition was a two-week sellout…

So 2011 was a lot of fun.

25. Youth Lagoon – Year of Hibernation

Spotify || YouTube

Trevor Powers’ music makes me feel a lot of things I just can’t put my finger on. When I first heard it, the walls of reverb and slow burning melodies seemed tailor-made to lull me to sleep. Like the best dream-pop records, though, it kept bringing me back, searching for the power in these seemingly nonchalant, mumbled lyrics and those chords that surge upwards, eternally hopeful. It’s more of a feeling than anything I can write down, though, the kind of satisfaction you get from waking up from a really good dream that you just can’t remember the details of. Dream music, that sounds about right.

24. White Denim – D

Spotify || YouTube

If this is what jam bands do nowadays, I need to start growing my mustache out and cultivate a stash of patchouli, because this is the kind of 21st-century music that you air-guitar along to. I don’t know what front man James Petralli is mumbling on about half the time, but that’s hardly the point – when they’re infusing psychedelic rock with prog and jazz and a healthy dose of innovative looping techniques, you’ll be plenty focused on just trying to keep up.

23. Bibio – Mind Bokeh

Spotify ||…

(EDIT: Playback must be seen on YouTube due to copyright reasons. It’s worth it!)

It was only a matter of time. The Decemberists’ third single from their new album The King Is Dead features a fantastic video with a finely detailed reenactment of a scene from David Foster Wallace’s mammoth tome Infinite Jest. For those familiar with the book, the legendary tennis academy scene featuring a full game of Eschaton, a sort of thermonuclear war simulation played with tennis lobs, is set to “Calamity Song” (quite the appropriate lyrical choice). Given Colin Meloy’s hyper-literary tendencies, the connection isn’t too surprising, and true fans of the book will have a good time spotting out all the slight references stuffed into each scene. It’s also a damn good looking piece of work.

Now if only the band’s next video somehow recreated “The Entertainment” from the same book, that would be a real treat…

The 59th edition of FabricLive‘s mix sets features Four Tet aka Kieran Hebden, and this lovely future single culled from the end of it is now available for streaming. It’s graceful and hauntingly beautiful, perfect for that 5 am comedown. As Hebden noted: “This mix is not about my DJing. It’s about London and fabric and nights out and my take on all that. The memories and the influences. I used old and new music, I used recordings of fabric, and I made new tracks of my own for it. I hope people play it fucking loud and lose their minds in it and remember or imagine what it’s all about.” Check out the FabricLive compilation when it drops September 19th and for now, enjoy this fantastic single.

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Rock veterans Wilco recently left Nonesuch Records to start their own label, and with that comes, of course, another new Wilco release. “I Might” is the first single off it, initially available only to those who picked up a copy at the band’s Solid Sound Music Festival in Massachusetts but thanks to the magic of the Internet now available here online for everyone. The band’s eighth proper album, tentatively titled The Whole Love is set for a September release.

The track itself has a driving acoustic melody with a thick bass that reminds me a bit of “I Am A Wheel’s” hook minus the adrenaline, but the track is about what you’d expect from Wilco at this stage in their career: enjoyable, light, dare I say happy. It may veer a bit closely towards “dad-rock” for those who didn’t really enjoy Wilco (The Album) but if you like joyful Jeff Tweedy over depressed, pill-popping Jeff Tweedy, than you’ll be even more excited for the upcoming record.

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No press please.

One of the celeb-spotting highlights of my time at Coachella 2011 was seeing pop starlet Katy Perry, or should I say Katy Perry surrounded by a fat entourage of men allowing only the slightest glimpse of her pixie-sized body, walking across the field towards the VIP area. I found it mildly fascinating that, in a festival where numerous stars could be seen hobnobbing and generally enjoying themselves, Perry found it necessary to travel in a way that would paradoxically maximize not only her protection but also her visibility. There’s few things better suited to announcing to the world that HEY! PLATINUM POP STAR PASSING THROUGH! than traveling in a caravan.

Luckily, one of those few things is tour riders, one of the best ways to determine whether a pop star’s desire for control is beginning to spiral a bit out of reach. The Smoking Gun recently got a hold of Perry’s 2011 rider, and it delivers. We’ve all heard the “only brown M&Ms” horror stories common in the industry, but Perry, who prefers organic snacks, takes things to a diva-tastic level. Demands run the gamut from precisely delineated types of chairs (cream-colored armchairs, God help you if they’re in eggshell white) to a somewhat disturbing repulsion towards carnations (underlined AND capitalized, indicating potential harm to Katy if she is indeed exposed to such flowery trifles) to a comprehensive list of things her driver is NOT allowed to do, including…

Photo courtesy of Maurice Li

One of the hardest things to do at Coachella is wake up in time to get to the festival early to catch the first few bands. Usually this isn’t too big of a problem – rarely has a band I’ve loved been set too early. Sunday was an exception, as Phosphorescent took the Mojave tent stage at 12:15. Missing out on the extra sleep was a great decision – Matt Houck and his band played their whiskey-strained alt-country with a steel guitar riffing and piano-pounding passion that enervated the sleepy residents of the tent and woke me up for the day better than any energy drink.

The only thing worse for a band’s Coachella audience than an early start time is extreme heat, and as Sunday afternoon stretched on and temperatures reached the highest they’d been all weekend, it wasn’t all that surprising to see Menomena’s set at the Outdoor stage less than packed as concertgoers scrambled for the tents. Menomena, after all, aren’t the same band as they used to be – with founding member Brent Knopf leaving the band this past January, songs on which he sang lead vocals were nowhere to be found. But what they did play, sticking mostly to songs from 2007’s Friend and Foe and last year’s Mines, was up to the rabid fans’ standards who braved the 100 degree heat. Closer “TAOS” was the obvious favorite.


Photo courtesy of Rukes

A rough night meant I didn’t make it to the festival grounds until close to 3, but that was never really a problem: the first act I wanted to see happened to be Sputnik favorite The Tallest Man on Earth at 3 pm in the Gobi tent. Throughout the weekend the Gobi seemed to be getting the least love, but this afternoon it was unusually packed, everyone there just to see one tiny Swedish dude and his guitar. He didn’t disappoint – any fears I had of his occasionally grating voice transferring to a live setting were quickly dispelled: he actually sounded better live! Everything came together on “King of Spain,” the audience lifting Kristian Matsson’s voice to new heights and his acoustic guitar ringing out over the tent grounds quite effectively.

My indie rock embarrassment of riches began shortly afterwards with Americana group Delta Spirit at the Outdoor stage. They may not be the most original band, but as a live performance they put on quite the show. Singer Matthew Vasquez’s long dark locks made him look like Dave Grohl’s lost twin, but he sounded more Walkmen than Foo Fighters, his gravelly voice propelling the band’s dust-and-blood barroom tales further than they could have hoped. For a band with a minimal following at the festival, Delta Spirit, like Titus Andronicus the day before, really delivered it for their fans.

I then caught the latter half of Irish rockers…

Photo courtesy of Gavin Langille

For all the hype surrounding Coachella 2011 – the six day sellout, the mounting confusion and problems regarding the festival’s new wristband ticket method, the fear of scalpers selling fake tickets and wristbands not shipping out in time, once the festival was under way it was still the same old Coachella. Friendly people slapping hands and exchanging “happy Coachellas!;” temperatures routinely soaring above 100; enough drugs to make Noriega and Kesey blush; and music. Music that was at times brilliant, enthralling, obtusely weird, fist pumping, merely okay and atypically shocking and everything in between, but still the lifeblood of the festival no matter who came . . . and there were a lot. From shirtless fraternity boys to forty-year-old scene veterans, from stoned, bleary-eyed hipsters to day-glo-adorned rave kids, Coachella stuck them all in a boiling polo field of a pot and, for one weekend at least, helped them appreciate everything and everyone else. Coachella may be becoming more of a place to be seen than appreciated nowadays (over the course of the festival I saw Katy Perry, Tara Reid, Paul McCartney and even David Hasselhoff, all almost exclusively in the VIP lounges enjoying the drinks rather than the music), but few festivals can match its uniting experience. And it remains unforgettable.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Friday was going to be the coolest day of the weekend – a “pleasant” 93 degrees, blinding sun…

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I’m really not sure what to think of the new Justice song, which premiered in an ADIDAS commercial you can check out below. It definitely has a killer beat, and I like that the French electro duo is sticking to the sound that made them one of the preeminent voices in the dance explosion of the late ’00s. But it does kind of sound like they just made a point of throwing as much random shit into the song as possible. To be fair, however, it does make more sense in the context of the commercial (which is awesome, by the way). Look for a probable extended mix of the tune on their upcoming album later this year.

The Strokes broke the Internet earlier today when they released the first single from their upcoming album Angles on their website, which still isn’t functioning quite as it should. Because I’m a generous and loving person, thought I’d upload it for your listening pleasures here. “Under Cover of Darkness” finds the Strokes seemingly trying to recapture some of that Is This It magic, complete with bouncy guitar chords and Julian Casablancas’ ever-present cold. Angles is slated for release on March 21.

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Who says you can’t remix a classic? Sputnik favorite Pretty Lights certainly doesn’t seem to give a damn, as his newly released, uh, 2010 Unreleased Remixes EP, which you can download in all its seven-song glory here. “Time” might be my favorite, but check out his Steve Miller Band and Kanye remixes for some more electro glory.

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